Interview on “Riding the dragon on the plains of slaves” painting


So what does this title mean?

I used the analogy of the Matrix and the real-life cyber war rolling out by China and other major states to fight over information.

China has the largest cyber army organized to date. In the film of the Matrix, Neo enters the Matrix by taking the red pill. Ride the dragon is a slang term to take heroin for the first time. Another take on the title is the city of Shanghai, the source of the hacking, has a urban myth of a dragon living under the city itself unearthed by the current highway construction.



The second part “… on the plains of slaves” is a play on words of the human slaves in the movie, the “slaves” China freed when the conquered Tibet and the title song “Plains of Hope”. That song was sung to the army by the President’s 2nd wife at Tiananmen Square after massacring 3000 civilians to retake the square in 1989. That photo is currently banned in China. Currently, China is trying to sell her as the first lady of China of a modern politician, when really she is of the same fold of former autocratic rulers of China. As they say in Spain, she is a “chaquetera” or someone changing her jacket from Chinese Army to Chinese propaganda singer to first lady of China, but still backing the same autocratic regime her whole life.


Why did you choose Morpheus over Neo or Trinity?

At first I had thought of using Neo with the pose of looking straight on, but I likely better the father figure of Morpheus as the all-knowing prophet of the One in the movie. For this painting, I was focused on the masculine nature of warfare that I thought were best represented by the male characters in the movie.


What is the 61398 in the painting?

The Chinese army has a unit called 61398. That is the source of most of the world’s hacking currently. The Chinese symbol is “Dream” in Mandarin. This is the current aspirational theme of the latest Chinese government. I liked the idea of connecting their propaganda goodwill theme with the underside of hidden hacking attacks.


Why do you think the Chinese invest so much in hacking?

Basically, it is the premise of communism. First, you take over the land, factories and get rid of the intellectuals, which they did in the 1940s. After that you get famine and industrial crisis as the system is mismanaged without a thought of profit and property protection. Next, you need to continually steal by doing it outside of the country to maintain the stolen gains. Hence, they steal copyrights of IT companies, counterfeit major Western brands and hack into systems to get more patents. As they don’t back up private property and inventions, they are continually copying and stealing the new patents as they come out. Even today, all land is owned only temporarily by the citizens; after 70 years all the land reverts back to the government. It is basically a system of feudal land rights with the citizens as peasants.


Another purpose to the hacking is to watch and protect against the government losing power.

Why would the Chinese government fear losing power?

One reason is that as they stepped away from the tenants of communism towards autocratic capitalism, they don’t really represent the revolution they came to power to. If Mao were alive, he likely would have gotten rid of the current leaders.


Any type of autocracy is always threatened continually by the overthrow of the citizens as the economy goes bad. So the government uses this hacking group to raid Tibetan activists thinking that will allow them to finally rule Tibet successfully. Another group they persecute is the Uyghur region of China. Both groups are represented in the symbology of the painting. Additionally, much of the hacking is directed at controlling the flow of information within China to remain in power.


Why use the pose of Morpheus with a sub-machine gun?

Many will likely say this is an attack on the current anti-machine gun vs. gun rights debate. You could definitely see it that way. In China or other autocratic regimes, the government has the majority of guns while in democracies the citizenry has access to guns, which helps prevent autocratic tendency in government. Criminals have access to guns in either society.


My intention is that as this is basically another cold war with no military on the ground action, but massive cyber attacks by either side. A sub-machine gun from the film captures the reality that each side is armed and dangerous and this is a real war fought electronically.


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